Honesty is the best policy

Sep 23, 2019

“When directly confronted with a difficult or painful question and you aren’t honest with people – they’ll figure that out. And you can forget them ever trusting you again.”

It’s too bad there are so many leaders of AEC firms (and other businesses, for that matter), who just don’t realize what a great tool it is to be honest with people. I’m talking about telling the unvarnished truth to those who want it, need it, and deserve to hear it.

Business partners, lenders, investors, clients, and employees all need your honesty. Here’s more of what I mean:

  1. Business partners. These could be the people who mentored you and got you where you are by supporting you. Or, they could be someone who struggled right alongside you and put their house up for collateral to get the business started or bought back from other partners. Either way, they deserve to know what is going on and what you are thinking. Not to say you need to clear your daily decisions with them every time, but they do deserve to know the truth about what is happening, stuff that you know about and that they may not. Hold back, and there will be a lack of trust. They could start wondering what you are up to that may hurt them in the future.
  2. Lenders and investors. They have to know the good news AND the bad news, so they don’t get any surprises. So many firm owners only want to give the good news to these people, and in the process, shoot themselves in the foot. Early warnings allow those who have taken on a lot of risk to help stave off or solve the problem before it grows so big it can’t be dealt with. This is so important!
  3. Clients and customers. When something is going wrong or has gone wrong, truth is always the best policy. I realize your professional liability carriers may disagree, but what do they know about building a business that maintains long-term relationships so essential to your well-being as a company? It’s best to just be honest and own up to any mistakes early and then work to correct them quickly. That way, they know you’re not only on top of things but will make them right without their pressing you to do the right thing. The trust you build will pay future dividends far beyond the cost of fixing whatever the problem is that you or your people created. Think LONG term. The future will be here before you know it and you only have one reputation!
  4. Employees. When you are the boss, you have a tremendous responsibility for the people who work for you. Think about it – they have placed their trust in you to run a good business that provides them with ongoing employment. I always say that being an employee is like being self-employed and having only one client. It’s very risky unless your “client” is a really solid business run by people who actually value you and care about your well-being. If you don’t disclose what is going on and what could affect them, you are violating that responsibility. And when directly confronted with a difficult or painful question and you aren’t honest with people – they’ll figure that out. And you can forget them ever trusting you again. You blew it. And rest assured that it will manifest itself in less effort, less commitment, and higher staff turnover down the road.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.